Backed by warplanes, Syrian government troops pushed yesterday into the central districts of the city of Homs in an effort to oust rebels from the country’s third largest urban center, activists said.
The regime pounded rebel-held districts with artillery and carried at least one airstrike on a residential neighborhood, killing seven people, four of them children, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
President Bashar Assad’s troops regained control of the Wadi Sayeh district in the center of Homs by early yesterday morning, the Observatory said. The neighborhood is strategically important for the government as its forces try to dislodge opposition fighters from several central districts that have been under rebel control for more than a year.
In the northern city of Aleppo, rebels overran the headquarters of Assad’s anti-terrorism forces, according to the Aleppo Media Center activists group. The building’s capture was the latest in a string of rebel victories in Aleppo as opposition fighters try to expand their hold within the city, Syria’s largest.
The building is located near the central prison where many of Assad’s opponents, activists and their family members are believed to be held. Fighters have for weeks battled government troops in the area in an attempt to storm the facility and free the prisoners. The Observatory, which relies on a network of activists on the ground, said regime jets also hit the northern city of Raqqa, killing eight people there yesterday. In early March, Raqqa became the first urban center to fall entirely under the opposition’s control.
Also yesterday, Assad’s warplanes hit several targets in Damascus province, including rebel positions in neighborhoods around the capital, as well as targets in the southern city of Daraa, the Observatory said.
Opposition activists also reported fierce clashes between Assad’s troops and rebels near Aleppo’s international airport. Aleppo, Syria’s main commercial hub, has been carved up into opposition- and government-held areas since the rebels launched an offensive there last summer, capturing several districts and villages and towns around the city, which is near the border with Turkey.
Meanwhile, five Turkish security officers and two civilians were wounded yesterday after Syrians trying to cross over into Turkey randomly opened fired in a border buffer zone, officials said.
“It started as a minor stone-and-stick clash when our security forces warned Syrians,” who were trying to cross the common border in large numbers, said Abdulhakim Ayhan, mayor of the border town of Akcakale. “One police officer is severely injured and the other six were mildly hurt,” he added.